UCLA’s relentless pass rush carries Bruins to victory over Colorado

UCLA defensive end Laiatu Latu sacks Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders at the Rose Bowl.
UCLA defensive end Laiatu Latu sacks Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders in the second quarter of the Bruins’ 28-16 victory Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

UCLA broke out light blue retro uniforms Saturday, a tribute to its only national championship team in 1954.

Fortunately for the Bruins, their defense lived up to the throwback moment.

Applying constant pressure, No. 23 UCLA withstood a turnover-prone offense and more special-teams blunders on the way to a 28-16 victory over Colorado before 71,343 at the Rose Bowl, the largest home crowd of the Chip Kelly era.

A stadium dotted with fans outfitted in Colorado’s black and gold who had come to see Buffaloes coach Deion Sanders was treated to another prime-time performance by UCLA’s defensive linemen. Shadowing Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders in the backfield, the Bruins piled up seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Edge rusher Gabriel Murphy had 2½ sacks and Laiatu Latu added two, giving him 8½ sacks on the season — two short of his total for all of last year.


Laiatu Latu, whose mother once helped him fight to get medically cleared to play football, has become the formidable leader of UCLA’s defense.

Oct. 27, 2023

It was part of another stifling showing by UCLA’s better half. The Bruins (6-2 overall, 3-2 Pac-12) limited Colorado (4-4, 1-4) to 38 yards rushing and 244 yards of offense while giving up just three field goals and one garbage-time touchdown.

“Our defense is the best I’ve ever seen,” quarterback Ethan Garbers said on a night when he was again steady and efficient, “and the best I’ve ever gone against in practice.”

After committing four first-half turnovers, UCLA was far more careful with the ball in the second half while outscoring the Buffaloes, 21-10, satisfying a crowd that had grown restless.

Garbers was solid in his second consecutive start with the exception of one interception in which Colorado defensive back Travis Hunter jumped the route.

Pasadena, CA - UCLA quarterback Ethan Garber throws downfield against Colorado.
UCLA quarterback Ethan Garber throws against Colorado in the third quarter Saturday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

“That first interception, hats off to No. 12, he made a really good play on that,” said Garbers, who went on to complete 20 of 27 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. “It’s something we weren’t really expecting, but he made a great play.”


Afterward, the highlights mostly belonged to Garbers.

“In my head, just kept saying, ‘One play at a time, one snap at a time,’ ” Garbers said, “and just kind of kept it going and just let the game flow.”

The offensive highlight of the game initially was ruled an incompletion. UCLA wide receiver Logan Loya’s toe-dragging, one-handed catch on third down late in the third quarter, which needed a replay to overturn the call on the field that he was out of bounds, extended a drive that ended with running back T.J. Harden sprinting outside for a three-yard touchdown run.

“I know I dragged the toe,” said Loya, who set career highs with seven catches for 111 yards. “I was just trying to figure out where it was because I did feel like I was falling out of bounds and I was like ‘Ah, just reach, reach.’ And then it happened and the toe was in.”


Colorado coach Deion Sanders reacts on the sideline in the fourth quarter against UCLA.


Pasadena, CA - UCLA quarterback Collin Schlee heads for the end zone against Colorado.


UCLA running back Carson Steele fumbles after a big hit by Colorado safety Shilo Sanders in the second quarter.

1. Colorado coach Deion Sanders reacts on the sideline in the fourth quarter against UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. 2. UCLA quarterback Collin Schlee heads for the end zone in the fourth quarter. 3. UCLA running back Carson Steele fumbles after a big hit by Colorado safety Shilo Sanders in the second quarter. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Added Garbers: “Just so everyone knows, he makes those catches at practice too, all the time, so it wasn’t something special. We’ve been seeing it.”

UCLA was ahead 21-9 early in the fourth quarter and it felt like a much bigger cushion given the way its defense was playing.


UCLA held Colorado to a field goal late in the third quarter after the Buffaloes had first and goal at the Bruins’ 10. After a short run by Sanders, Latu sacked the quarterback for an eight-yard loss and Sanders was forced to throw the ball away under pressure on third down.

On came the Buffaloes’ field-goal unit, an all-too-familiar sight for a team in desperate need of more points.

“We played with a lot of resiliency,” said UCLA edge rusher Carl Jones Jr., who had a sack as part of his team-high seven tackles. “Those four turnovers, we held them to field goal after field goal after field goal. So that’s just another testament to the defense that you know, we don’t flinch when adversity hits.”

UCLA running back T.J. Harden hurdles over Colorado cornerback Omarion Cooper in the fourth quarter.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Pasadena, CA - UCLA wide receiver Logan Loya makes a catch against Colorado.
UCLA wide receiver Logan Loya makes a catch against Colorado in the third quarter.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA’s sputtering offense suddenly hummed on its first drive of the third quarter. Garbers followed a 49-yard pass to an open Loya with a 26-yard touchdown pass over the middle to an open Moliki Matavao.


In just two plays, the Bruins had gone 75 yards while doubling their point total in taking a 14-6 lead.

That was a welcome departure from the way things had gone.

A bizarre first half featuring four UCLA turnovers ended with the Bruins holding a 7-6 lead thanks largely to their attacking defense. UCLA’s edge rushers and defensive linemen logged eight tackles for loss and five sacks while holding the Buffaloes to 107 yards of offense.

UCLA’s offense was another matter entirely. Garbers and backup quarterback Collin Schlee each had a pass intercepted by Hunter, and running back Carson Steele lost two fumbles after getting popped by defenders at the end of long runs.

But Garbers was effective even with his interception. He repeatedly took off on runs when receivers failed to get open, accounting for 38 yards in six first-half carries.

UCLA took the lead early in the second quarter after lining up out of the T formation when Steele leaked out of the backfield uncovered and caught a three-yard pass in the front corner of the end zone.

The odds were against the Bruins being ahead at the game’s midpoint considering their flurry of turnovers compared to none for the Buffaloes.

“It’s the square root of Pi, so take the square root of 3.1416,” Kelly said of the chances of winning in that situation. “It wasn’t good.”


There was also a special-teams miscue when UCLA kicker R.J. Lopez bounced a 24-yard field-goal attempt off the left upright, his third consecutive miss and fifth in his last eight tries since the team switched holders this month.

Colorado made two field goals to build a 6-0 lead, including a 31-yarder in which UCLA’s Kamari Ramsey appeared in perfect position to block the kick before coming up empty.

No matter. Things would start going the Bruins’ way soon enough.